Max Verstappen believes he can thwart Lewis Hamilton’s bid for a seventh Formula One (F1) title this season if Red Bull give him the tools to do the job.
Last year, the 22-year-old Dutch driver won three races, finishing third overall in the championship, and he is not about to be awed by anyone’s reputation — even if that person is possibly the greatest driver of all time.
“It’s very car-dependent of course in F1,” Verstappen told reporters at a Red Bull team media event on Monday.
“Lewis is very good,” Verstappen said. “He is definitely one of the best out there, but he’s not God. Maybe God is with him, but he is not God.”
Hamilton, 35, is chasing several records this season, including Michael Schumacher’s 91 race wins and seven titles, and has won five of the past six championships with dominant Mercedes.
“We really want to mount a challenge to especially Mercedes and I think we can do that,” said Verstappen, who last month signed a contract extension to the end of 2023.
The new contract had taken away the hassle of being asked all the time about his future, removing another potential distraction, he said.
Verstappen said that Hamilton might be vulnerable if put under sustained pressure, with the Briton having singled out Verstappen already last year as someone he gave more space to because of his aggressive reputation.
“I’m very much looking forward to it, everybody’s fired up and everybody’s very motivated. Coming off last year, at the end, we were very competitive,” Verstappen said.
Team boss Christian Horner said that Red Bull, who use Honda engines, would be helped by stable regulations and were looking to apply the lessons learned from last year to take the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari.
The new car is to have its first track shakedown behind closed doors at Silverstone, England, on Wednesday next week, with Verstappen and Thai teammate Alexander Albon starting pre-season testing in Barcelona on Feb. 19.
“Honda did such a great job, each introduction of an engine last year brought more performance and more power, and it feels we’re getting very, very close now to Mercedes,” said Horner, whose team were third overall last year.
“That therefore puts the emphasis on the chassis side of the team... Going into this year, we feel better prepared, earlier, than we have certainly in the last five years,” he said.
VIRUS AND CHINESE GRAND PRIX
The Chinese Grand Prix is set to be discussed by F1 this week amid speculation that the April 19 Shanghai race could join a growing list of sporting events hit by the coronavirus.
The grand prix is scheduled as the fourth round of what would be a record 22-race season.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told reporters on Monday that the situation was being carefully monitored, and that he trusted the judgement of the governing FIA and commercial rights holder Liberty Media.
“They are responsible for the health and well-being of not just the drivers in F1, but all the staff, all the traveling members of the media,” Horner said. “I’m sure they’ll take the necessary due diligence before making any commitment about either delaying or postponing or canceling the race, so we have to trust their judgement, their knowledge.”
“We keep a very close eye on the situation,” he said. “I’m sure it will be on the agenda of Wednesday’s strategy meeting, where we’ll get the next update.”
The Strategy Group is part of the governance of the sport and comprises FIA and F1 representatives, as well as representatives from six of the 10 F1 teams.
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